Top Owner-Handlers Share Their Experiences in Dog Conformation.
4. In your breed, do you encourage novice owner-handlers to try showing their own dogs?
Responses were overwhelmingly affirmative, with a few caveats.
Lorentzen concedes that “it can be difficult and frustrating for newcomers because we have so many talented professionals and owner-handlers in our breed.” But she wants to grow old feeling that she helped to leave her breed in good hands for the future. “I am very willing to sell a newcomer a good dog and guide them in learning to trim, condition and handle it. After all, who will carry on when we ‘old folks’ are gone if we don’t encourage a new generation?”
Over the years, Staudt-Cartabona has encouraged many novices to handle and finish their own dogs. She is upfront about the fact that their dogs might finish more quickly with a professional handler. “However, when their hound wins, they know it was because of the dog’s merit, not because of a handler’s face or skill.” She adds that “many of these novices have evolved into notable breeders and successful owner-handlers with dogs in the Top 10 each year.”
Santana admits that it can be very difficult for a novice to walk into the Doberman ring and achieve any level of success. “I constantly watch judges encourage these ‘newbies’ but they can only give them so much leeway in a ring full of well-presented competition.”
Santana generally recommends that novices hook up with an accomplished mentor to learn the ropes and develop the necessary handling skill “to do more good than harm when presenting their dog.” To help novices get a start in Dobermans, she has authored numerous articles on handling and training, and chaired the DPCA Exhibitor Education committee for five years.
“Committed owner-handlers will eventually learn the game and compete successfully against the ‘face’ handlers. They can rise to the top with a combination of great handling and social skills, and strategically spent campaign money,” Santana says.
Huff has a reputation as a Standard Poodle breeder who will sell novices good dogs and mentor them. “For the future of the breed, I think it’s important that newcomers have as much buy-in as possible in all the different aspects of conformation breeding and showing. If dogs and a particular breed become integral to their lives in multiple ways, they are more likely to make long-term commitments.”
5. In closing, we asked our interviewees to share a few thoughts on their personal philosophy of owner-handler success.
“This is a money-driven sport, as are most sports,” says Hafford. “For those of us who struggle with all the expenses involved in breeding and showing dogs, our best defense is to breed the greatest specimen of our particular breed. I developed a definite picture in my mind’s eye early on of the breed and I have not varied much. I have not fallen prey to fad breeding.”
Hafford adds that this usually does not happen overnight, which he considers a good thing. “I pity novices whose very first dog is a great one or even a quasi great one. It takes away so much of the inspiration.”
“Study, learn, be diligent,” says Lawrence. “Watch the pros and observe how they show their dogs. You never know it all. There is always someone who can teach you something.” She considers Frank Sabella to be her most important mentor. “He gave me Best Junior Handler at the KC of Beverly Hills when I was 11. Have the proper attitude — go out there to win. I grew up in the sport, it has changed over the years, but the same approach still works for me.”
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